“USCG Report: Small Cutters Prove They Can Patrol a Big Ocean” –Marine Link

We have noted before, that the Coast Guard is using Webber class WPCs more like Medium Endurance Cutters than like “Fast Response Cutters” here, here, and here. No where have their capabilities been pushed harder than in the 14th District in the Central and Western Pacific.

Increased illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in US and neighboring island EEZs, US obligations under the Compact of Free Association, and desire to avoid the destruction of fisheries resources essential to the properity of the region has resulted in a need to push these little ships into remote areas of the Pacific.

Marine Link has a report about the use of Webber class FRCs for long distance patrols in the Western Pacific. This is a particularly good report in that it records not only the successes, but also the limitations that worry the crews on these demanding deployments.

Food and Fuel are major concerns

The nominal range for the Webber class WPCs is 2500 nautical miles (nmi) at 14 knots. Attempting to stretch that range requires some compromises. Fuel margins have proven adequate, but they are thin and running engines at their most economical speed takes a toll. The need to minimize fuel consumption to make the great distancces requires running the engines at low RPM,

Sabatini said that the lower speed poses some other problems for the engines. “The diesels are really designed to operate at higher RPMs. When we were going for a week to ten days at a relatively slow speed, the carbon isn’t getting blown out. So, I was worried about that build up, and concerned about replacing injectors at a high rate than normal.”

It also means that almost any diversion, weather avoidance, or even adverse weather will cut into that margin.

The nominal endurance is five days. As built there is simply not enough storage space for food.

“We had extra freezers and reefers on the bridge and out of the mezzanine deck.”

I presume the mezzanine deck is the clear area between the bridge and the Mk38 gun mount that is marked for vertical replenishment. When I got to tour the Bailey Barco (WPC-1122) while it was enroute to Alaska, there was a lot of gear stowed on deck in that area. Apparently that worked, but I can imagine situations where the seas might wash some gear stowed there over the side.

I have also heard that the on-board laundery facilities are inadequate for prolonged patrols.

So far, most of these long Webber class deployments seem to have been accompanied by a larger cutter, but I got the impression from the post that that may be changing since the Webber class have proven their ability to make the voyages unsupported.

Medical Facilities

The lack of any onboard medical assistance is also worrysome. The report notes this as a danger to the crewmembers, but it also means the ship is not well equipped to provide medical assistance if required in a SAR case. The possible distance from shoreside medical facilities may also mean they would have to maintain a 10 knot economical speed rather than being able to go to speed to the nearest shore facility.

The Future

That the Webber class have proven capable of doing these missions comes as a pleasant surprise because they would not normally be our first choice for covering these great distances. What might we do to make these missions less challenging?

We might base some of the OPCs in the Hawaii or Guam. This may be possible specifically because the Webber class have proven capable of performing missions previously handled by Atlantic Area WMECs. That is probably desirable in the long term, but there is a more immediate solution. Base two, or preferably three, Webber class in American Samoa.

A base in Pago Pago, American Samoa would make unneccessary any routine transits longer than the nominal five day endurance and more than 2000 nmi that are now required to reach parts of the US EEZ and Western Pacific Island nations. A base in Pago Pago would put these ships within less than five days and less than 1500 nmi of Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu (1260 nmi), Tarawa (1373 nmi) and New Caladonia (1416 nmi).

25 thoughts on ““USCG Report: Small Cutters Prove They Can Patrol a Big Ocean” –Marine Link

  1. I suggest that they swap the 210 WMEC with the Western Pacific assets and let the FRC handle drug/immigrant interdiction. The 210 carries a Corpsman and helicopter for SAR, evacuation and surveillance. And lest anyone forgets, there are two 378s sitting in Seattle with nothing to do. The USCG should have a manned transport (in the spirit original Kukui WAK-186) for UNREP, port construction and NAVAID modernization.

    • IMO, the USCG should put atleast 4 FRC’s, 2 OPC’s and 2 NSC’s spread out between Sector Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands. At the same time, the USCG should bring back a more modernized USCGC Kukui (WAK-186) to support the 4 FRC’s, 2 OPC and 2 NSC’s and along the lines of the Damen LST100 that they are building for Nigerian Navy to help support the USCG in the pacific

  2. “Stepping Stones”! In a recent article in “The Drive”, starting 6 June 2022 new construction has begun on “Tinian Island” as an alternative Landing Facility to that of Guam should landing at Guam become unfeasible. Final construction is expected to end in October 2025, and Tinian is ~1137-nmi. from Kwajalein and ~88.6-nmi. from Guam. And something is going to be needed to patrol the waters from Hawai’i to Kwajalein to Tinian to Guam, which sounds like the duties that the “Webbers” might be able to accomplish…

    • Guam Kwajalein is about 1600 nmi, so within range. It is much further from Hawaii to Kwajalein. Kwajalein is part of the Marshall Islands, which is one of the Compact of Free Association states so we would probably want to conduct some Fisheries Patrols with them.

      • And the Mariana Island chain “Tinian Island”,is what “not important” enough to not merit USCG patrol of it’s waters…

      • No, Tinian is part of the Northern Marianas, and is US territory. It is as you noted less than a 100 miles from Guam, so Guam based FRCs should have no problem patrolling waters off Tinian.

      • That wasn’t my point! The subject was “Small Cutters prove they can patrol a large ocean”? “Tinian” being ~1137-nmi from Kwajalein, which may and/or may not be within the whatever “Webber” is assigned to patrol that area if the need should arise! The NSC and/or OPC have the range and endurance to fill the role requirement, whereas the Webbers don’t, and yet your making the claim given the Webbers limitations on both range and endurance filling the role it wasn’t meant to do. When Tinian goes operational in late-2025, while any Webber assigned to patrol the area from Kwajalein and not being purposely tasked from Guam be able to meet the challenge…

      • @Secundius, I still don’t understand what point you may be trying to make. I don’t see that construction on Tinian has anything to do with the FRCs doing fisheries patrols in the Marshall Islands.

        My discussion was about the transit to an operating area, not their abilility to patrol in the operating area, which they are capable of doing–though a unit with a helicopter and/or UAS would be more effective. Ultimately my point was that FRCs based in American Samoa would eleminate the need for pushing the little ships beyond their designed endurance and running their engines in a less than optimal fashion.

        Five days or 120 hours at 14 knots would permit a radius of 1680 nmi. That would leave 820 nmi (32.8%) remaining of their nominal range, So they could probably cruise at 15 and make up to 1800 nmi in five days. That probably should the normal limit for routine transits. Deploying to SW Asia or long term rotation of assets would certainly justify longer transits but in those cases having a larger vessel along would seem prudent.

      • So fuel tanks on Webbers can’t be topped off by host islands that they are tasked to patrol for whatever reason for return voyage to homeport in which they were originally tasked from…

      • @Secundius, on the contrary, they can refuel and replenish at the end of their transits and then do their patrols. After patrolling they fuel and replenish and transit back to base. If going to patrol in the Marshall Islands, the cutter would be more likely to refuel and replenish in Majuro, the capital, rather than in Kwajalein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majuro

      • Kwajalein has an US Army garrison with available fuel storage facilities! I suspect so will Tinian after their new construction is done…

      • @Secundius, Port call at Majuro makes sense because, not only can they get fuel and supplies, it is also where they would coordinate the patrol with Marshall Islands authorities and pick up a shiprider under whose authority boardings in the Marshall Islands’ EEZ would be done. Would also allow an opportunity for capacity building. Majuro is the largest tuna transshipment point in the world so there are ample facilities for support of a vessel the size of a Webber class.

      • In other words R&R Facilities are better in Civilian Ports than those in Military Ports…

  3. I’ve said on this forum before that the if the USCG is going to use the FRC for long duration missions they should field a proper support craft. Any number of oil rig offshore supply vessels could do the job for a bargain. Sending the FRC alone into the Western Pacific unsupported is begging for trouble. A machinery casualty + a typhoon = a vessel lost. The only reason they have been able to pull it off so far is the platforms are all practically new. In a few years, when these boats start to age, it is going to be a whole different story. I thought we were done doing the “impossible with nothing” business model.

  4. We had all the same issues on a smaller scale operating 87ft WPBs out of area in the Med. Ropeyarns’ comment is dead on the money. Good planning, creativity and hard work can only get you so far. When you’re 200NM offshore, low on fuel and with a deck load of 100+ rescued migrants, the margins are far too thin for comfort.

  5. Because the Coast Guard does not believe that history may help the present highlights the problem. The 82-footers in Vietnam ran 4-7 day patrols. This boats had no evaporators to make water, had a Sears-Roebuck chest freezer in the main hole where temperatures could reach 160-degrees F.

    In the northern sections, an 8-hour run at full speed was required to get to the patrol area. Fuel was also a concern, with only some 1500-gallons onboard the patrols were run on one shaft at ‘trolling speed’ about 2.5 knots.

    Storage was not a problem because the berthing spaces were not chopped up into cubicles. However, materiel was not stored on deck except for ammunition but the majority of that was still below decks. For example, the fore peak was turned into an 81mm magazine where (at least) I would kept some 900 rounds. The 75 WP rounds were in the CO cabin because it was cool. 50,000 round of .50 caliber ammunition in the main hole with the freezer and heat. The FRC carries no where near this amount ammunition weight.

    The comments about the “mother-ship” concept are correct but even in the time of Kukui the Coast Guard realized she could not handle everything and acquired a former Army FS and named her Nettle. Even here two were not sufficient as was forward basing them at Sangley Point PI.

    The other point about age is correct. The 82s in Vietnam had a complete repair force at their home bases. These repair forces turned engine changes into an art-form and accomplished complete engine change-outs in 12 or less hours.

    My question is: What is the plan? Is this just another fad mission? There may be solutions in the form of a mini-LSD multi-purpose (the Coast Guard ideology) and convertible vessel.

  6. I’m rather curious that the “Webber” class “Joseph Cerczak” in the photograph seems to be lacking the RPS-42 S-Band Phased Radar Arrays! Is that because of its Pacific Ocean deployment, where its unlikely to encounter any drone threat, or simply because they weren’t installed yet…

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